How China became a hero in open source

China's tenth five-year plan made software a priority, but Android made open source software a reality.


Image: BirgitKorber, Getty Images / iStockphoto

China was once a relative zero when it comes to software. No longer. In both patented and open source development, China's influence is growing. Of course, open source has helped drive that increase, as CTO Simon Crosby has suggested "Now [China] you can download our best, free, everyday", but this tells an incomplete story . China may have been a net consumer of code once, but now it has gone from zero to an open source hero.

Yes, really.

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Taking software seriously

China was not always an open source model of virtue. For that matter, the country did not invest much in software, period. As noted by Dr. Ying Li, vice president of VMware in Greater China, China's tenth five-year plan (2001 – 2005) turned software development into a critical pillar of economic development:

[I] information [sic?] is the key to promoting the advancement, industrialization and modernization industry. Therefore, national economic and social information must be the first priority. Making an effort to promote national economic and social information is a strategic action in fulfilling the entire modernization construction plan.

Not only was it a matter of economic development, Caywood emphasized but it was also a matter of national security: "China has very strong historical reasons to avoid dependence on foreign technology without some access to ( yes, I will say) the means of production. The same applies to the former subjects of several euro empires, but for China that problem is at the center of the modern state. "

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China, which had a software economy of approximately 2% of the size of the US. UU. However, China did not actively participate in open source until 2011 when Android arrived, according to Li.

From there, China has not looked back.

China open source

While imperfect measures, nowadays Chinese developers constitute the third largest block of developers who contribute to Cloud Native Computing Foundation projects (such as Kubernetes) and the second largest group which contributes to the repositories hosted on GitHub. That is amazing. It is also a matter of self-interest, as always with open source.

According to Caywood, this strong participation is reduced to two reasons: "It is the first defensive order from the Chinese point of view, and then ensures that they can effectively integrate with the rest of the world's technological infrastructure." Li agrees, but adds another reason: China's greater adherence to international intellectual property standards (including open source standards that imply open access to the code).

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Open source, of course , it cannot be stolen, but just because it is available for free does not mean it is free. To fully benefit from open source, developers and organizations that use them do well to actively contribute to open source communities. As noted in the previous statistics, Chinese developers have been increasingly active contributors.

Li explains why:

The growing open source community in China has long-term benefits for our customers, as well as the technologies we are developing. When you have a community, you have more people to exchange ideas and more agility when it comes to solving problems. We want to provide value to the global community and our customers, and actively encourage our developers and engineers to contribute to the open source community.

While the spirit of the community has been shaken by threats and presidential rates, so far Chinese developers remain unobstructed access to key sources such as GitHub and The Apache Software Foundation projects. That's good, because it turns out that we need Chinese developers to give and receive open source, especially given its importance to chart the future of open source in the cloud.

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